Before Antonio Banderas became a Hollywood star, he made his name in his native Spain as writer-director Pedro Almodóvar’s favorite leading man. Despite a more than 20-year sabbatical from each other, the two have made eight films together over their nearly 40 years of friendship. Their latest finds Banderas as the Almodóvar-inspired protagonist of the current Oscar contender “Pain and Glory.”
At an Envelope Live Screening Series Q&A, Banderas recalled how their creative reunion, for 2011’s “The Skin I Live In,” got off to a stumbling start.
“I was kind of cocky about my years in America,” the suave actor said with a smirk. “I said, ‘Look at the amount of things I have learned. I’m very secure now in front of the camera and I can use my voice in this way and I can do this and that.’ And he said,” Banderas taking on a doubting falsetto, “‘Yah, OK.’ And … after a week of rehearsal, he said to me, ‘You know these things you’re bringing from America — they must be very useful for your American directors.’ ”
To which Almodóvar, leaned forward in his seat and asked innocently, “I said that?”
The Envelope Live Screening Series continued Oct. 28 with a presentation of “Pain and Glory” at the Montalbán in Hollywood. The Q&A with Almodóvar, Banderas and composer Alberto Iglesias was moderated by The Times’ Glenn Whipp (with the help of a translator).
Almodóvar has praised Banderas’ “Pain” performance, as a character inspired by aspects of the auteur’s own life and personality, as one of the actor’s best ever. Onstage at the Montalbán, he pointed out one of the more difficult challenges of the part for his friend.
“The problem with this character is he was a psychopath and I was very interested to erase every emotion from his face. And that’s not easy,” said Almodóvar. “Because you are not conscious that you are completely empty. That is a quality that these kind of characters have, that they don’t feel anything, any kind of empathy …
“So that was the main thing, it was just to erase the face of someone that is naturally gifted to be very expressive.”
Despite their long acquaintance, Banderas found his friend’s revelations about himself in “Pain and Glory” unexpected.
“I always consider Pedro a very private person in certain aspects of his life and I’ve been always very respectful of those kind of boundaries that, invisibly, we maintain with each other,” he said.
“So it was surprising to me, when I read the script, to see certain things I didn’t know. I didn’t know that he wanted to do certain declarations, to come to terms with his mother, family issues, with actors, with cinema, with life itself in a way.”
Another longtime Almodóvar collaborator is composer Iglesias, who has scored his films since 1995. “I didn’t know it was going to be so long, this relationship,” said Iglesias, to laughter from the crowd. “It’s true that we find a special way to collaborate. Each time is different. We try to renovate our relationship, our feeling about music.”
For “Pain and Glory,” said the composer, Almodóvar “mentioned water. He mentioned light. He mentioned past, travel to the past.”
Whipp asked Banderas if he was aware of Almodóvar’s maternal feelings toward him, per the filmmaker’s previous quotes, when the actor left Spain to work in the United States, lo those many years ago.
Banderas said, “I went to his house because they called me to do a movie called ‘Mambo Kings’; it was my first American movie. I couldn’t even speak the language at the time. I went to his house and there was a picture there, it was [the actress] Victoria Abril, him and me on the Berlin Wall. It was the year the Berlin Wall came down. We went to the festival with ‘Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down.’ He took the picture and turned it around and signed it with something like, ‘“The Mambo Kings” play very sad songs,’” the actor paused and smiled as the audience laughed, then he finished the dedication: "‘… Pedro Almodóvar.’ ”
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